I find Jeremy in the grocery section, and as I walk toward him, I notice he’s flanked by two women who have abandoned their carts to talk to him. His back is pressed against the ice cream cooler, giving the impression that he wishes he could melt right into it and escape. I can only see the backs of their heads as I approach, but when Jeremy’s eyes meet mine, an attractive blonde turns around to see what he’s looking at. The brunette seems more my speed, but only until she looks at me. Her glare changes my mind instantly.
I approach the cart as if it’s a wild animal, cautiously, timidly. Do I place my items into the cart or will that make this awkward? I decide to set my things in the upper basket, a clear line in the red-cart sand: We are together but not together. The women both look at me, simultaneously, their eyebrows climbing higher with each item I set in the basket. The one standing closest to Jeremy, the blonde, is staring at my tampons. She looks back up at me and tilts her head.
“And you are?”
“This is Laura Chase,” Jeremy answers. “Laura, this is Patricia and Caroline.”
The blonde looks like she’s been handed a warm cup of gossip tea. “We’re friends of Verity’s,” Patricia says. She gives me a very noticeable condescending look. “Speaking of, Verity must be feeling better if she’s got a friend in town.” She looks at Jeremy for more explanation. “Or is Laura your friend?”
“Laura is here from New York. She’s working with Verity.”
Patricia smiles at the same time she makes an mhm sound and looks back at me. “How does one work with a writer, exactly? I assumed it would be more of a solitary job.”
“That’s usually what non-literary people assume,” Jeremy says. He nods at them, dismissing us from the conversation. “Have a good afternoon, ladies.” He begins to move the shopping cart, but Patricia places her hand on it.
“Tell Verity I said hello and we hope she’s recovering well.”
“I’ll share the message,” Jeremy says, walking past her. “Give my best to Sherman.”
Patricia makes a face. “My husband’s name is William.”
Jeremy nods once. “Oh. That’s right. I get them confused.”
I hear Patricia scoff as we walk away. When we make it to the next aisle, I say, “Um. Who is Sherman?”
“The guy she fucks behind her husband’s back.”
I look at him, shocked. He’s smiling.
“Holy shit,” I say, laughing. When we get to the register, I can’t stop smiling. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that kind of epic burn in person.
Jeremy begins placing things on the conveyor belt. “I probably shouldn’t have stooped to her level, but I can’t stand hypocrites.”
“Yes, but without hypocrites, there would be no epic karmic moments like the one I just witnessed.”
Jeremy grabs the rest of the things from the cart. I try to keep mine separate, but he refuses to let me pay for it myself.
I can’t stop staring at him as he runs his credit card. I feel something. I’m not sure what. A crush? That would make complete sense. I would develop a crush on a man who is so devoted to his ailing wife that he’s too blind to see anyone or anything else. He’s too blind to even see who his own wife was.
Lowen Ashleigh, falling for an unavailable man with more baggage than even she has.
Now that’s karma.
I only arrived here five days ago, but it seems like longer. The days here drag, whereas in New York, well, New York minute.
I heard Myrna tell Jeremy this morning that Verity had a fever, which is why she didn’t bring Verity down at all today before she left for the evening. I wasn’t sad about that. It meant I didn’t have to be in her presence, or look at her from my office window during their outdoor breaks.
I’m looking at Jeremy, though. He’s sitting alone on the back porch, staring out at the lake, leaning back in a rocking chair that he hasn’t rocked in over ten minutes. He’s sitting completely still. Every now and then, he remembers to blink. He’s been out there for a while now.
I wish I knew what thoughts were going through his head right now. Is he thinking of the girls? Of Verity? Is he thinking about how much his life has changed in the past year? He hasn’t shaved in a few days, so his stubble is getting thicker. It looks good on him, but I’m not sure much could look bad on him.
I lean forward on Verity’s desk and drop my chin in my hand. I immediately regret moving, because Jeremy notices. He turns his head and looks at me through the window. I want to look away, force myself to appear busy, but it’s obvious I’ve been staring at him, now that I’m leaned forward on the desk with my head propped on my hand. It would look worse if I tried to hide it at this point, so I just smile gently at him.
He doesn’t return the smile, but he doesn’t look away. We hold eye contact for several seconds, and I feel his stare stirring things up inside me. It makes me wonder if it does anything to him when I look at him.
He inhales a slow breath and then lifts up from his chair and walks away, toward the dock. When he reaches it, he picks up his hammer and begins ripping at the remaining few slabs of wood.
He was probably craving a moment of peace, without Crew or Verity or a nurse or myself invading his privacy.
I need a Xanax. I haven’t taken one in over a week. It makes me groggy, which makes it difficult for me to focus on writing or research. But I’m tired of the moments in this house that send my pulse racing like it is right now. Once the adrenaline kicks in, I can’t seem to reel it in. Whether it’s Jeremy, Verity, or Verity’s books, there’s always something wreaking havoc on my anxiety levels. My reaction to this house and the people in it are more distracting than a little grogginess would be.
I walk to the bedroom to sift through my bag for the Xanax. As soon as I get the bottle open, I hear a scream come from upstairs.
I drop my unopened bottle of pills on the bed and rush out of the room and up the stairs. I can hear him crying. It sounds like it’s coming from Verity’s room.
As much as I want to turn around and run in the other direction, I also realize he’s a little boy who might be in trouble, so I keep walking.
When I reach the door, I push it open without knocking. Crew is on the floor, holding his chin. There’s blood on his hands and fingers. A knife next to him on the floor. “Crew?” I reach down and pick him up, then rush him to the bathroom down the hall. I set him on the counter.
“Let me see.” I pull his shaky fingers from his chin to assess the injury. It’s seeping blood, but it doesn’t look to be very deep. It’s a cut right underneath his chin. He must have been holding the knife when he fell. “Did you cut yourself with the knife?”
Crew is wide-eyed, looking up at me. He shakes his head, probably trying to hide that he had a knife. I’m sure Jeremy wouldn’t approve of that. “Mommy said I’m not supposed to touch her knife.”
I freeze. “Your mommy says that?”
Crew doesn’t respond.
“Crew,” I say, grabbing a washcloth. It feels like my heart is stuck in my throat as I speak to him, but I try to hide my fear as I wet the washcloth. “Does your mommy talk to you?”
Crew’s body is rigid, and the only thing that moves is his head when he shakes it. I press the washcloth to his chin right before I hear Jeremy’s footsteps bounding up the stairs. He must have heard Crew scream.
“Crew!” he yells.
“We’re in here.”
Jeremy’s eyes are full of worry when he reaches the door. I step out of his way while still holding the washcloth to Crew’s chin.
“You okay, buddy?”
Crew nods, and Jeremy takes the washcloth from me. He bends down and looks at the injury on Crew’s chin and then at me. “What happened?”
“I think he cut himself,” I say. “He was in Verity’s bedroom. There was a knife on the floor.”
Jeremy looks at Crew, his eyes full of more disappointment than fear now. “What were you doing with a knife?”
Crew shakes his head, sniffling as he tries to stop crying. “I didn’t have a knife. I just fell off the bed.”